‘V’ Is for Vigilante
by William Norman Grigg
For months, Ada County Sheriff David Updyke had been investigating a secretive group of armed extremists living at the periphery of his southwest Idaho jurisdiction. When an informant provided him with a membership list of the armed band, Updyke wasted no time. He obtained arrest warrants, organized a large, heavily armed strike force, and made a beeline for the Payette River Valley.
The warrants were a ruse. Updyke wasn’t planning a mass arrest; he was plotting a massacre. His quarry was a group of about two dozen law-abiding citizens who had organized a private “Vigilance Committee” under the leadership of an equable local farmer named William J. McConnell.
Some of the Vigilantes had welcomed Updyke’s election as Ada County’s first sheriff in 1864, only to discover in short order that he was a predator, rather than a peace officer. Historian Randy Stapilus summarizes the matter quite tidily in his slender but fascinating book Outlaw Tales of Idaho: Ada County’s new sheriff “was moonlighting as a stage robber.”
Updyke’s inspiration was Henry Plummer, a New England native who carved out a criminal career that spanned several states and ran up a fairly sizeable body count. Swept into northern California just as the gold rush was waning, Plummer – who was blessed with glibness and a certain facile charm – was elected a town marshal.